By Isabel Pulgarin
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) ended their strike Sept. 26 —147 days after halting creative work in Hollywood with picket lines outside major production studios and streaming services. But the actors’ strike is still on with the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) also concerned about pay and artificial intelligence.
The main fight for the writers in this new age of streaming: residuals, the annual pay owed to writers every time someone streams an episode or film and/or it reruns on cable after the initial compensation of completion.
For years, no matter if a show became a hit with millions of views or bombed with too few, the writers’ residuals stayed the same due to an equation that calculates the length of the project with the amount of time it has been on the streamer’s platform, including any revenue brought in from that project to the streamer—something hard to prove since subscription rates became more important. But streamers get around this by taking the show or film off their platform after a few months.
A fixed residual based on the number of viewers will now reward the creators and writers with a larger residulal check.
Veteran guild writer Glen Farrington said the average annual residual has been $400 to $600.
“You just want to be fairly compensated. I’m not asking for, God knows, millions and millions and millions of dollars. I’m not asking for that,” Farrington told Marketplace. “I’m just asking for enough to be able to survive and have a stable life and raise a family. And I think that’s what anybody wants out of a job.”
The Hollywood studios brought to the table were Apple, Amazon, Netflix, NBCUniversal, Sony and Paramount. The writer’s strike was most noticeable when the daytime talk shows of Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Hudson, and late-night talk shows of Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers had stopped production, airing older episodes rather than any new pre-recorded episodes. These talk shows are back on air now.
Since May 2, writers demanded higher royalties, mandatory staffing, and job security from AI—a sticky point that held back the handshakes. On Sept. 27, they finally voted on a deal that secured what they’re owed, including the respect to decide when AI can be used; minimum weekly pay rates and a minimum number of writers; a raise in rates of health care and pension contributions; and bonuses to residuals based on the viewership of streamed content.
It was July 14 that the screen actors’ union went on strike along with the screenwriters.
“Most of my members don’t even meet the threshold to get health insurance, which is $26,000 a year, and in most jobs that would be considered a part-time job,” said SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher, creator and producer of “The Nanny.”
Popular TV shows delayed by the strike and pushed back until at least 2025 or indefinitely without a new set date include:
“House of the Dragon”
“The Last of Us”
Not only are shows delayed but movies are, too. “Challengers,” “Blade,” “Dune: Part Two,” “Avengers: The Kang Dynasty” and the next three installments of the “Avatar” trilogy are among the titles on hold.
Currently, actors a part of Screen Actors’ Guild still cannot cross the picket line, do press or attend premieres of their films.
The “Barbenheimer” summer event brought the love for theaters back with blockbusters Grerta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” premiering the same July 21 weekend when the actors strike started during their press tours and international premieres. The cast of Nolan’s drama was mid-premiere in the U.K. when the strike officially started in July, and they left in solidarity.
A-list actors like Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie and America Ferrera have all joined the picket line.
Other actors raised funds for the Union Solidarity Coalition’s eBay auction to support those on strike by offering signed memorabilia like an apron from “The Bear,” and one-on-one experiences like a Zoom session with the cast of “New Girl,” “Manifest,” and “Bones.”
“It’s sad that it has to come to a Hollywood shutdown for things to change, but I’m very happy that people are fighting to be treated fairly,” said Janell Campbell, a junior theatre major.
Studying to be in this industry, she was scared of being undervalued based on the horror stories that have been shared by those striking. She also hopes now that hair and makeup departments will also be inclusive to people of color along with the new calls for fair treatment to make actors still as comfortable in their skin.
“It’s really scary to think about how you can get a major role and have to be working as a waitress to be able to afford healthcare, or how you can be recorded, and your image can be used multiple times after that without compensation or permission,” she said.
One of Campbell’s favorite shows right now is “The Bear.”
“I’d rather have to wait for some shows I love than know that nobody that was involved in making it as beautiful as it was getting treated fairly,” she said.
On Sept. 30, California Governor Gavin Newson vetoed a bill backed by the WGA and the SAG-AFTRA. It would have given unemployment benefits to workers on strike. He cited the state’s already large federal debt from the COVID-era’s influx of unemployment applications that would be increased if the bill passed.